5 steps towards more fruitful relationships with Health Care Professionals.

More than ever, pharmaceutical companies depend on good relationships with Key Opinion Leaders to develop effective drugs that improve patient care and ultimately turn a profit. These relationships can and should be mutually beneficial, expanding the physician’s expertise and influence while giving pharma valuable insights into patient needs and the market.

Engaging the right stakeholders is a competitive business with decreasing financial and regulatory leeway. Hence, pharma companies feel the need to innovate the way they interact with HCPs (health care professionals) to stay relevant.

In our work with leading health care companies from around the world like Abbott, Abbvie, Bayer and Eli Lilly (to name a few), five insights have proven to be a useful guideline for taking KOL engagement to the next level.

 

1. Recognize there is a new generation of Key Opinion Leaders

The ‘omniscient’ doctor is a cliché of the past. Patients have emancipated – respect and authority are neither a given nor the goal for this new generation of doctors and other HCPs. It is not (only) a matter of age but one of attitude.

This new generation of Key Opinion Leaders in health care can be characterized as follows:
• Tech-savvy – while emails may be annoying, virtual meetings and video streaming are welcome time savers
• Open to doing things differently
• Less hierarchically thinking
• Not exclusively male – more and more women are entering the once male-dominated sphere of KOLs
• They are used to things moving fast, so they appreciate being challenged – considering the competitiveness amongst KOLs, they need to be challenged

Companies who understand the implications of this generational shift will have a significant head start when it comes to building customer loyalty with the emerging stars of health care.

 

2. Co-Create with your KOLs

Doctors become top of their field because they are thirsty for knowledge and eager to change things. Consequently, you will be doing them a favor by involving them sooner rather than later.

We have found the methodology SIT – Systematic Inventive Thinking – to work rather well with scientifically thinking medical experts.

What’s in it for the doctors?
• Transparency – they are involved from the very beginning
• They feel appreciated
• It’s a way for them to contribute and to make an impact
• Learn something new: a methodology (e.g. SIT) which they can use in their work, as well

What’s in it for pharma?
• Instant feedback (they are there with you) means better solutions
• KOLs own the solution – they came up with the solution, so they are more likely to accept it and even spread the word
• Creative workshops are a wonderful way to build relationships and customer loyalty
• Get to know emerging stars to identify those you want to keep close
• It fosters an understanding of the various restrictions pharma faces when engaging KOLs

An example:
Bring together a small group of KOLs and your company’s commercial and medical staff to challenge the existing concept of advisory boards. This is not the same as running an ad board on how to run ad boards. It is about building a temporary team of internal and external experts and giving them the tools to co-creatively come up with something new that benefits all stakeholders. Having come up with the idea, those participating KOLs are likely to volunteer for the first new ad board of its kind.

 

3. Find ways to improve their experience using existing resources

The times of sending doctors on exclusive golf trips are over. Ever-stricter regulations, compliance and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) have significantly changed the way pharmaceutical companies interact with health care professionals. Furthermore, complexity tends to increase. Reasons for this are above mentioned regulations as well as outsourcing to CROs (Clinical Research Organizations).

So, when working on improving KOL engagement, adding complexity or costs is seldom an option. Instead, a cleverer use of existing resources and efforts to reduce complexity are promising investments.

‘De-complexify’
Challenge processes and functions systematically. Sometimes counter-intuitive changes can be easy and more effective than incremental (lean) improvements. Complexity builds up over time, good enough reason to step back and question the status quo.

Innovate ‘Inside-the-Box’
Rather than brainstorming expensive and unrealistic solutions, use a methodology that starts with what is already there: the people and processes at hand. Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) is such a method that will help you unlock hidden potential and make clever use of existing resources.

 

4. Let them help you be agile

Agility and start-up thinking are entering large corporations. Pharma is no different but the industry is inherently risk-averse, inhibiting agile transformation.

Given transparency, even the most established and demanding Key Opinion Leader will forgive you, if something does not go as planned. Use this fact to your advantage. In our experience, KOLs are more open to trying new things than generally recognized. Many relationships are personal and allow for informal feedback – ideal to test and validate ideas with these important stakeholders. It is essential to keep in mind that being agile is about measuring your results and learning from them.

 

5. Be innovative in your KOL engagement!

A typical ad board meeting can resemble a 19th century class room – the doctor in the center, being observed by 20+ people silently taking notes. This is clearly not the most effective way to learn and interact – and certainly not the most fun way.

The key is to bring value to the KOLs. They, too, are facing competition and with ‘fair market value’ compensations, working with pharma needs to benefit them in other ways than purely financially.

This last point on being innovative brings together points 1-4: Know your Key Opinion Leaders, involve them to create realistic solutions and dare to test them.

How to identify what brings value to your key opinion leaders?
Try Value Analysis to identify new opportunities and need for action.
Value Analysis differentiates between attributes (things you have to offer) and values (what is in it for the target audience?) and tries to establish links between the two categories. Missing links will indicate opportunities to improve while strong links show your strengths, focusing on which may prove valuable. It is a structured way to reflect on your KOLs’ needs.

How to come up with innovative Key Opinion Leader activities?
See item 1:
Dare to be unconventional, doctors (especially emerging KOLs) as well as other Health Care Professionals will appreciate it. Incorporating new technologies does not need to mean developing proprietary applications. Many off-the-shelf solutions for video streaming and conferencing will proof valuable in simplifying interactions and making – for instance – educational events multi-channel activities.
See item 2:
Invite KOLs with whom you maintain good relationships to an ideation workshop on the future of advisory boards, educational activities or the way you run design and run trials. Avoid simply asking for their opinion, co-create and make them part of your team.
See item 3:
Think about what you already have in place? Would a different combination of events and participants or a different distribution of work packages add value to Key Opinion Leaders or your colleagues?
See item 4:
Start small and dare to risk a not-perfect activity. It will not hurt you, as long as you are being transparent about it.

Admittedly, it appears to require vast efforts to change something in a system as regulated and restricted as Key Opinion Leader engagement. Therefore, it takes a systematic and efficient approach to tackle these issues and to come up with solutions that will have an actual impact.

The Bold Group has worked with leading health care companies worldwide. Over the course of these projects we have had the pleasure to work with our clients’ Key Opinion Leaders in workshops, advisory boards and one on one interviews.

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